In a recent All Access interview with Cumulus Media Executive Vice President John Dickey and Big Machine Label Group CEO Scott Borchetta, Dickey gave the first indication that the media giant could be giving classic country music a bigger home on the radio. When speaking about the currently-expanding NASH Icon format which is now live in 20 different markets, Dickey said, “NASH Icon is a Hot AC for Country. It’s not Classic Country, it’s not NASH Classics – stay tuned, that format is coming – and we’re going to do that in a way that hasn’t been done before, and that’s really exciting creatively.”
Nash Classics would likely not be as big as NASH Icon which competes with Top 40 country in the markets it has moved in to, including beating Top 40 stations. But it would be an alternative for classic listeners who’ve been lost in the country music shuffle. “And Classic Country, or in our case, soon-to-be NASH Classics, that is a niche format and it will continue to be a niche format,” John Dickey explains. “It sounds great, but it’s no different than an Urban station putting on a great Gospel station. There’s a lot of great product out there, and we’re going to do it in a great way, but it will exist, and we’re going to do it in a smaller way. It will exist in a smaller way next to NASH Icon and NASH.”
NASH is the flagship Cumulus Media Top 40 country brand.
Martina McBride & Ronnie Dunn – Next Possible NASH Icon Signings
Meanwhile NASH Icon, which includes a record label with Big Machine Label Group, looks to be on the brink of some more signings of older country artists. In the same All Access interview, Scott Borchetta alludes to Martina McBride being a top candidate for the label. “I don’t think you have to really be too much of a guesser to look at who’s out there and who’s working. You’ve got Martina McBride who is still very relevant in the marketplace,” Scott says.
Martina McBride’s 2011 album Eleven was released through the Republic Nashville label, which Big Machine partially owns. Her latest album, 2014’s Everlasting was a self-released collection of mostly R&B standards.
The other name rumored to be part of NASH Icon is Ronnie Dunn—one half of the now defunct Brooks & Dunn. Ronnie has been dropping hints that his NASH Icon signing is imminent on Facebook and Twitter. Nash Icon has already signed Reba McEntire.
NASH Icon Continues to Gain Steam
NASH Icon continues to do well in ratings compared to its Top 40 competition, making the possibility of a format split in country music more of a reality every day. “October is going to be stronger than September, and already we’ve got a week in November and November is showing those signs,” says John Dickey.
Meanwhile John Dickey says he’s happy that other non Cumulus stations are taking the NASH Icon model or similar ideas and running with them, including the recently-reformatted Hank-FM. “…as they say, imitation is the best form of flattery,” says Dickey. “We’ve had another very, very smart broadcast company – people that I respect immensely – look at what we’ve done here and buy in to the wisdom of the fragmentation format and have done something very similar in Dayton with a radio station…There’s a very healthy energy and enthusiasm for what we’re doing with this format. I still hold to what I said in August. I think you will see, in the next 24 months, a NASH Icon format in each of the Top-100 markets. It may be 36 months; it may be a year longer than what I’m predicting.”
NASH Icon also continues to do surprisingly good with the sought-after 18-34 demographic, meaning younger listeners are connecting with the older format as well. And the numbers show NASH Icon is not cannibalizing country’s other radio formats, but growing the pie by enticing disenfranchised listeners back to radio.